It's easy to knock Philip Glass' symphonies. Chugging rhythms, rippling arpeggios, a sense of bombast, numbing repetition – his compositional fingerprints are easy to decipher. Yet I find them pleasing, hypnotic even. Few orchestras are as experienced “Glassware” exponents as the Bruckner Orchester Linz and its Chief Conductor Dennis Russell Davies, a great Glass supporter and commissioner of every symphony other than the Seventh. In their second evening at Cadogan Hall, at the start of a UK tour, they presented a strong case for Glass' Symphony no. 9.

Dennis Russell Davies © Reinhard Winkler
Dennis Russell Davies
© Reinhard Winkler

The Ninth is on a large scale, if without quite as much “existential dread” as the Eighth. From my position at the back of the Gallery (more on that anon) it was like watching a living mosaic: possible to see each individual component part – repeated many times – and how they fit together, although the resulting picture is abstract. The oft-repeated brass tessera in the second movement has already proved a ridiculous earworm. Orchestral detail fascinated. Marimbas pulsed, contrabass clarinet throbbed, trombones intoned notes of doom. A battery of percussion, including wood blocks and anvil, was kept gainfully employed, trapped in a blustering second movement groove which found the timpanist virtuosically juggling between six drums.

It's not just decibels though. A lot of Glass' music is soft and intricate. Each of its three movements follows a similar ABA pattern, each starting and ending quietly. It's all very predictable, yet mesmerising. Apart from a brief spell at the start of the second movement, where sections slipped momentarily out of synch, this was a polished performance with a confident swagger, gleaming in orchestral detail. Dennis Russell Davies marshalled and balanced his forces impressively.

And here's the revelation of the evening. Having experienced big orchestras in Cadogan Hall from the Stalls – and the horrible congestion that results – I decided to cut my losses and move to the Gallery for the second half of the concert. Sparsely populated, the sound up there was perfectly acceptable, with a degree of immediacy without overwhelming the ears, even in Glass' more bombastic moments.

Melvyn Tan and the Bruckner Orchester Linz © Reinhard Winkler
Melvyn Tan and the Bruckner Orchester Linz
© Reinhard Winkler

Aural congestion marked a less than satisfactory first half. The orchestra played Beethoven with a full-fat sound, stolid and stodgy, as if the composer had indulged in a few too many slices of Linzertorte. Violins sang sweetly and the oboe displayed its distinctive, slightly sour Austrian tone, but the Overture to King Stephen lacked vim and vigour.

The performance of the Piano Concerto no. 4 in G major was a stylistic mismatch from first to last. Melvyn Tan, stepping in for Ingolf Wunder, is well known for his period instrument explorations. He somehow managed to imbue the Cadogan Hall Steinway with a brittle fortepiano timbre, pecking at treble notes and busily tapping the damper pedal. Tan displayed impish character in the first movement cadenza, engaging in an 'open-mouthed wonder' sort of way, but his account was completely at odds with the orchestra's, which was too weighty for Tan's skittish approach. The only time it partially worked was in the second movement, where the piano really did sound up against it trying to tame the gruff strings but, for the most part, this concerto was given two completely different performances.